Notes on Being Alone

Superman is regarded as the most powerful superhero going, right? We can all agree on that I think. The man literally absorbs power from the sun and is bullet-proof and can fly. He has one weakness, which is a rock that proves incredibly difficult to get your hands on. He’s basically untouchable. Nevertheless, Superman has his iconic lair, his place to get away from the difficulties of his life. This has always been known as the ‘Fortress of Solitude’. You already know how important I believe word-choice to be. The creators picked SOLITUDE; they didn’t pick the word LONELINESS, and I think that was purposeful. It points to something within our nature that can easily pass unnoticed, and I think it’s important that it is noticed.

It’s essential, and due to the nature of our lives, inevitable that you spend time alone. There’ll be moments, minutes, hours, even days where you’ll find yourself exclusively within your own company. There’s nothing wrong with this whatsoever. In fact, it is an important skill to hone, to be able to spend time on your own. In order to understand yourself, you must wade in the waters of aloneness, and this is why I referenced Superman’s Fortress of Solitude; it is time spent alone, in quite productivity that we draw our biggest strengths.

I’d define solitude as ‘positive aloneness’. It is time spent alone to recalibrate, reflect and engage with yourself. It is time spent exploring your own motivations, intentions and future goals. It is time spent thinking, and analysing whether you are thinking well or thinking poorly. Solitude, time alone spent well, is essential for good mental health. However, like anything that is positive and worthwhile, it is not easy to do.

For example, I myself, due to the nature of work, and training, and writing, tend to spend quite a lot of time alone. For the most part, this time is productive and allows me to try and understand why things aren’t going to plan if that’s the case, or it allows me to switch off if life is busy. Whatever is going on, the time I spend alone is needed. However, when I spend too much time alone, I can tend towards loneliness after a while. If several weeks go by and I haven’t spent enough time with friends in a social context, I’ll start to feel lonely. This happens to us all and it is part of our experience, but allowing yourself to dwell in loneliness for too long is detrimental and personally irresponsible.

If too much time spent alone leads to loneliness, then I’d define loneliness as ‘negative aloneness’. To be specific, I’d characterise loneliness as the point where your aloneness has stopped being productive for your mind and you have now become isolated from your social circles, whether this be by your own choice or by chance. Either way, when we feel lonely we begin to feel sad, we begin to undermine our inherent value and we begin to question whether our friends enjoy our company. In other words, prolonged loneliness induces a form of social anxiety. The easiest fix to loneliness, of course, is to spend meaningful time with people you care about. More importantly, the quickest route out of loneliness is to stay out of your own head and off of your phone which will reduce the amount you’re overthinking (See notes on overthinking here).

It is completely fine and normal to spend time alone. We all do it. However, it is essential to your own health that you strike the balance between solitude and loneliness. Ensure your time alone isn’t spent festering in unresolved issues or feeling sorry for yourself. A little loneliness is good every now and then too, though. It’s our evolutionary alarm-bell that tells us it’s time to stop thinking, and start spending time with some friends.

So what I’m really saying is, spend time alone, but don’t waste time alone.

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